First quarter - Jan. 2, 12:15 am
Full - Jan. 9, 1:30 am
Last quarter - Jan. 16, 3:08 pm
New - Jan. 23, 1:39 am
First quarter - Jan. 30, 10:10 pm
Apogee: Jan. 2; Perigee: Jan. 17
Venus, Jupiter, and Mars — three of our four closest planetary neighbors — adorn the evening sky as the new year breaks. Venus is the dazzling “evening star” in the west at sunset, with only slightly fainter Jupiter high in the south at the same hour. Orange Mars rises by around 11 p.m. as January opens, but about two hours earlier at month’s end.
This Week's Stargazing Tips
January 3, 2012
The Quadrantid meteor shower is at its best tonight. It typically reaches peak rates of about a hundred “shooting stars” per hour. The peak typically lasts no more than a couple of hours, though, so it’s a tough shower to watch.
January 4, 2012
Sun and Earth are closest for the entire year today. Earth is at a point in its orbit called perihelion, which means “closest to the Sun.” We are about 1.5 million miles (2.4 million km) closer to the Sun than average.
January 5, 2012
The Moon stares into the face of the bull tonight — the V-shaped pattern of stars that outlines the face of Taurus. It is below the Moon as night falls. The brightest star in the V is Aldebaran, the bull’s orange eye.
January 6, 2012
The expanding cloud of debris from an exploding star is to the lower right of the Moon this evening, and the Moon sits almost directly in front of it a couple of hours before sunrise. It is known as the Crab Nebula because its outline resembles a crab.
January 7, 2012
The story of Jason and the Argonauts is retold in the stars in the fragmented remains of the constellation Argo Navis. Parts of the constellation are visible from the United States just above the southern horizon on winter evenings.
January 8, 2012
The Moon is full at 1:30 a.m. CST tomorrow, as it lines up opposite the Sun in our sky. The full Moon of January is known as the Old Moon, Wolf Moon, or Moon After Yule.
January 9, 2012
The Summer Triangle, formed by the brilliant stars Deneb, Vega, and Altair, shines in the wintertime as well. In January it lights up the northwestern sky in early evening, then reappears in the northeast before sunrise.
Water Worlds. Earth is known as the blue planet because of its oceans. But water is abundant throughout the cosmos. We'll talk about the water on Earth, on Mars, and around a newborn star, plus much more.
Space Rocks. The man who made meteorites fashionable was born 125 years ago, and we'll have details. We'll also talk about what scientists today know about these bits of cosmic debris, plus much more.
Ripples in the Universe. Some of the heaviest and fastest objects in the universe send "ripples" through space and time. We'll talk about gravitational waves, and the difficult task of finding them..
January 30-February 5
Stellar Opposites. The brightest star in the night sky has a companion that's a bare cosmic ember — a stellar corpse known as a white dwarf. Join us for brilliant Sirius, its faint companion, and much more about white dwarfs.
January Program Schedule: http://stardate.org/radio/calendars
Find an Affiliate: http://stardate.org/radio/affiliates
News From the Observatory
NASA Mission, Texas Astronomers Collaborate to find Goldilocks Planet, Others
Recently NASA announced the discovery of the first planet located in the "habitable zone" around a star — the "just-right" orbit that's not too hot, nor too cold for water to exist in liquid form, making life as we know it possible. Astronomers from The University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory involved in this and other Kepler research presented their findings recently at the first Kepler Science Conference at NASA's Ames Research Center.
Read more: http://mcdonaldobservatory.org/news/releases/2011/1205.html
Pair of black holes 'weigh in' at 10 billion Suns; most massive yet
A team of astronomers including Karl Gebhardt and graduate student Jeremy Murphy of The University of Texas at Austin have discovered the most massive black holes to date — two monsters weighing as much as 10 billion suns and threatening to consume anything, even light, within a region five times the size of our solar system.
Read more: http://mcdonaldobservatory.org/news/releases/2011/1207.html
Cosmic Explosion Explained Just in Time for Christmas
An explosion far across the universe rattled astronomers in 2010 on Christmas Day. Called a gamma-ray burst (GRB), it incited a flurry of activity from telescopes in space and on the ground, including the 2.1-meter Otto Struve Telescope at The University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory. This year, just in time for Christmas 2011, astronomers say they now know what happened — and it requires a new model for the origin of at least some GRBs.
Read more: http://mcdonaldobservatory.org/news/releases/2011/1130.html
Much more here.